FALL 2004


Sunnyvale Water Pollution Control Plant (SWPCP) Saturday, September 18 POSTED
Point Reyes National Seashore (Abbott's Lagoon) Saturday, September 25 POSTED
Point Reyes National Seashore (Outer Point) Saturday, October 02 POSTED
Big Basin State Park Saturday, October 09 POSTED
Andrew Molera State Park Saturday, October 16 POSTED
Elkhorn Slough/Moss Landing Saturday, October 30 POSTED
Merced/San Luis National Wildlife Reserve Saturday, November 06 POSTED

Note: The trip reports below are organized in reverse chronological order (more recent report first).





Merced/San Luis National Wildlife Refuges 11-06-04

The weather was awesomely beautiful! It was warm and clear all day with no wind, but a dense tule fog along Henry Miller Avenue slowed things down on the drive in. Amazingly, the mysterious white cleared at the preserve and conditions were perfect from that point on. We began by working the woods and thicket near the restrooms, finding scattered Passerines such as Loggerhead Shrike, Northern Mockingbird, American Goldfinch, House Finch, House Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, House Wren and the first of the day's many dozen Yellow-rumped Warblers. A nice surprise was an Orange-crowned Warbler in exactly the same tangled bushes we saw it one year ago. There was also a Sharp-shinned Hawk, a camera-friendly American Kestrel and both Red-tailed and Red-shouldered Hawks. Overhead, a large flock of American White Pelicans circled silently, and many Tree Swallows criss-crossed the blue sky, searching for insects. In the distance the cries of hundreds of Geese beaconed to us so we left the woods to set out on the loop.

We stopped at the usual turnouts to review the water birds. White-faced Ibis, Greater White-fronted Geese, American Avocet, Black-necked Stilt and several species of Duck were located. A bit farther, at the large tree, we located our friend the Great Horned Owl hidden in the branches and another Orange-crowned Warbler. Two Lincoln's Sparrows made brief appearances in the marsh as well. We also ran into Kent Van Vuren, the records keeper for Merced County. He was very pleased to see our group and commented that there hadn't been very many birders in the park for a couple of months so nothing had been reported. We took that as an invitation to find something good...

We ran into him again a few hundred yards up the road where he had spotted a Vesper Sparrow in the tule grass! Way to go, Kent!! The bird remained perched for several minutes and allowed close observation. We all agreed that the Sparrow was unlike anything else we had seen that day. The eye ring was very prominent, the bill and legs were quite pink, the tail notched, and I noticed a generally "soft" pattern on the face. This last feature is due in part, I suppose to the absence of an obvious supercilium. Several people commented on the lack of an obvious white throat, which all the illustrations seem to indicate. In fact, it seemed that the area between the dark malar stripes was interrupted by faint streaks. As I look at the Beedle and Rising books I see that in some cases this sharply defined white throat is less obvious (western subspecies, imms.) but generally it's more visible than we observed... I have sent an email to Kent asking for his opinions on the matter. Maybe he will be able to help us understand the discrepency between the bird we saw and the fieldguides.

Anyway, from there we continued to the last large pond before the platform, scattering numerous American Pipits along the way. We observed both Snow and Ross' Geese, as well as more Greater White-fronted Geese in the distance. From the platform itself, my favorite discovery of the day was a pair of "Aleutian" form Cackling Geese. This was a first for me and very exciting! The short bill and neck complete with white collar separating the black of the neck from the dark upper breast were all well observed. A "lifer" of sorts. We ate lunch and scanned the huge group of Shorebirds, finding mostly Dunlin, but also both Yellowlegs, Least Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitchers and Black-bellied Plover.

A walk along Meadowlark trail produced not only a year's worth of mosquito bites but also vicious, biting red ants! Inbetween slapping our pant legs and scratching our bites we saw an adult Ferruginous Hawk in the distance and a spectacular stoop of a Prairie Falcon. I'm sure everyone could hear the excitement in my voice at that point. The bird flew directly overhead, wings folded in delta as it sped toward the ponds at top speed like rocket. Unforgettable!

Little else was seen at Merced, save some Bluebirds spotted by the Leighton's car. We considered the possibility of Mountain, but the checklist seems to favor Western. The absence of a faint peach wash, visible on Phil's photograph, and the completely white undertail and flanks clinches it!

Forward to San Luis. On the way in, Horned Lark could be seen crossing the road overhead, but we never stopped to get a good look. We added a handfull of species along the auto loop. Wilson's Snipe, Say's Phoebe, Common Moorhen... all birds we should have gotten at the previous preserve but somehow missed. The most productive area was the walk out to the observation platform where both California and Spotted Towhee were logged as well as Dark-eyed Junco. One of the best birds of the day was also located here, a White-throated Sparrow. We stopped to observe a small flock of Zonotrichia, or "crowned" Sparrows. Low and behold, almost as if planned, an odd bird appeared! Flat-headed, strongly marked and with a grey breast that sharply contrasted against an obviously white throat! A class first and a lifer for many members of the group.

Alas, no Tundra Swans were found this day, no Blue-winged Teal, no Merlin. No matter. It was a wonderful day and we celebrated with a group dinner at Wool Growers, a Basque restaurant in Los Banos. Cricket and I spent the night at the Regency Inn for a much-needed rest before the long drive home.

Pied-billed Grebe
Eared Grebe
American White Pelican
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Cattle Egret (Los Banos)
White-faced Ibis
Greater White-fronted Goose
Snow Goose
Ross' Goose
Cackling Goose ("Aleutian")
Green-winged Teal
Mallard
Northern Pintail
Cinnamon Teal
Northern Shoveler
Gadwall
American Wigeon
Ruddy Duck
Turkey Vulture
White-tailed Kite
Northern Harrier
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Ferruginous Hawk
American Kestrel
Prairie Falcon
Ring-necked Pheasant
California Quail (heard only)
Common Moorhen
American Coot
Sandhill Crane
Black-bellied Plover
Killdeer
Black-necked Stilt
American Avocet
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Willet
Long-billed Curlew
Least Sandpiper
Dunlin
Long-billed Dowitcher
Wilson's Snipe
California Gull
Herring Gull
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Great Horned Owl
Belted Kingfisher (heard only)
Nuttall's Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker (heard only)
Northern Flicker
Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Horned Lark (Hwy 165, entrance to San Luis NWR)
Tree Swallow
Yellow-billed Magpie (Sandy Mush Road)
American Crow
House Wren (heard only)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Mountain Bluebird
Northern Mockingbird
American Pipit
Loggerhead Shrike
European Starling
Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Spotted Towhee
California Towhee
Vesper Sparrow (gift from Ken VanVuren)
Savannah Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird
Tricolored Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
Brewer's Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow






Elkhorn Slough/Moss Landing/Moonglow Dairy 10-30-04


This was how birding should be! We visited a beautiful area, got a good cross section of the birds present, in this case numerous Shorebirds, and ended by seeing a rare and wonderful bird that had been recently reported. It didn’t hurt either that the day was warm and clear… The only downer was that operation “Shorebird sweep” began just shortly before the high tide, not the best time, so some hoped-for species were missed. No matter, the harbor still contained four species of Gull and some Forster’s Tern as well as good numbers of Shorebirds such as Dunlin, Sanderling, Least and Western Sandpiper, Willet, Marbled Godwit and some unexpected species such as Red-necked Phalarope and a Ruddy Turnstone. Eared Grebe, Red-breasted Merganser and Greater Scaup were also logged here and a distant immature Red-shouldered Hawk generated some good in-field debate. We then made the long walk south on Hwy 1 to the Moss Landing Wildlife Area and found a few new passerines for the day such as Say’s Phoebe, Bewick’s and Marsh Wren, Common Yellowthroat, Song and Savannah Sparrow. There was also a distant Osprey visible on a wooden post, but Greater Yellowlegs was the only additional Shorebird. A brief trip over the dunes produced more Ruddy Turnstone, Semipalmated and good numbers of Snowy Plover resting in the human footprints in the sand. From the beach we scanned the open water to pull out a few water birds such as Common Loon, Clark’s Grebe, Surf Scoter, Ruddy Duck and Common Murre. A few of the local surfers assumed our scopes were cameras and hammed it up for what they thought was a surfboard magazine photoshoot. They're probably looking for their cover shot right now... Anyway, the beach was beautiful and the Snowy Plovers were wonderful. In hindsight, we should have left the beach and made a quick tour of the rock jetty for rock-loving Shorebirds such as Black Oystercatcher, Wandering Tattler or Surfbird. The allure of a brilliant red bird pulled us away, however. So we convoyed to the entrance of Moonglow Dairy and pulled into the first parking lot to scope the willows near the enclosure just beyond the power lines. Within minutes one or two members of the group got a glimpse of the bird. It was some time before all of us were able to share in the enjoyment, but eventually we all got looks of the Vermillion Flycatcher, a first year male, as it posed on the barbed wire fence. Some time passed and we viewed the second Vermilion Flycatcher in the distance as it perched on the far side of the enclosure. Not one rare bird, but two, were visible at the same time! This second bird had been reported only the night before, so were were quite fortunate to know about it, otherwise we might have left after seeing only one. Our views were distant, but the red color of the bird stood out against the background like a stop light, making it pretty unmistable. From here we drove to the eucalyptus grove where the final species of the day appeared, an immature Peregrine Falcon perched directly above our group and provided some nice photo opps. Next time we visit this area, we may spend more time among the trees to look for Warblers and other Passerines. Then it was off to the Fish Market for lunch, afterwhich, I added a few species not seen by the group: Brandt's Cormorant, Brant, Heermann's Gull (one with aberrant white patches at the base of the primaries), and Lincoln's Sparrow.

Common Loon
Red-throated Loon (seen by two)
Eared Grebe
Clark’s Grebe
Pied-billed Grebe
Brown Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
Brandt’s Cormorant (Moss Landing Rd)
Pelagic Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Brant (Moss Landing Rd)
Mallard
Northern Pintail
Northern Shoveler
Greater Scaup
Surf Scoter
Bufflehead
Red-breasted Merganser
Ruddy Duck
Osprey
White-tailed Kite
Northern Harrier
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Peregrine Falcon
American Coot
Black-necked Stilt
American Avocet
Semipalmated Plover
Snowy Plover
Black-bellied Plover
Marbled Godwit
Long-billed Curlew
Greater Yellowlegs
Willet
Ruddy Turnstone
Red-necked Phalarope
Short-billed Dowitcher
Long-billed Dowitcher
Sanderling
Western Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Dunlin
Western Gull
California Gull
Ring-billed Gull
Bonaparte’s Gull
Heermann’s Gull  (Moss Landing Rd)
Forster’s Tern
Common Murre
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Anna’s Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Black Phoebe
Say’s Phoebe
Vermillion Flycatcher
Tree Swallow
Western Scrub Jay
Common Raven
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Bushtit
Wrentit (heard only)
Bewick’s Wren
Marsh Wren
Hermit Thrush (heard only)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
American Pipit
Loggerhead Shrike
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Western Meadowlark
Red-winged Blackbird
Tricolored Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
American Goldfinch
California Towhee
Savannah Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
White-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Lincoln’s Sparrow (Moss Landing Rd)
Song Sparrow




Andrew Molera State Park 10-16-04

Morning was overcast with low clouds, but little wind and generally mild temperatures. By noon the sky as clear and became sunny with an offshore wind. Activity was low for much of the day, a situation echoed by the low banding numbers from BSOL, however some interesting birds were seen during our 4 mile walk. We began by hiking through the campground where a small bird landed in a nearby bush. It turned out to be a beautiful Clay-colored Sparrow, showing all the field marks we struggled to observe on our Abbott’s Lagoon bird. We lost the bird however after getting only brief looks. Several Warblers were seen in the same area including Townsend’s, Orange-crowned and Yellow-rumped. Along the trail to the beach we had several opportunities to compare both field marks and voice of the similar Hutton’s Vireo and Ruby-crowned Kinglet. We also had glimpses at a mysterious Goose... More on that in a minute. The trail dead ended at a pool where we had our first looks at the open water. Three Gull species, Black Turnstones and Killdeer were located as well as Brandt’s and Pelagic Cormorants. The long walk back took us through the campground again where a large group of foraging White-crowned and Golden-crowned Sparrows contained our Clay-colored Sparrow again! This time we were able to observe it at length and confirmed the identity. Pale lores, contrasty facial pattern, buffy wash and tannish rump. While this may not be the first Clay-colored we’ve seen this term, it is certainly the best!

After a picnic lunch at the tables we visited the Big Sur Ornithology Lab where we were treated to a banding demonstration by staff members who processed a female Ruby-crowned Kinglet. When the staff member asked us if we knew what species the bird was I found myself thinking how surprisingly difficult it is to ID a bird when it is that close. It seems odd that it would be so, but without seeing the bird’s behavior we lose one our most important pieces of information and field marks that seem so obvious on a free-flying bird are strangely obscured when we are presented with the delicate texture of individual feathers... Anyway, we learned about how the band is fitted on the bird’s leg, how the age is determined as well as the bird’s overall health. Fascinating!

Then it was out to the main beach where our mysterious Goose reappeared. It was alone, noticeably smaller, rounder headed, shorter-billed and generally darker-breasted than our familiar larger Canada Goose. Was it a newly recognized Cackling Goose or a “Lesser” Canada Goose race? I contacted Don Roberson, who literally wrote the book on Monterey County birds, and he said that while Cackling Geese are “uncommon to scarce” along the coast, they generally migrate as individuals. So while further discussion is necessary, chances are good that we indeed saw a Cackling Goose, a class first!

At the main beach we had better looks at the offshore rocks and in addition to Cormorants, Gulls and an adult Peregrine Falcon. Thanks to Shelia for that last one! There were also both Aechmophorus Grebes, and a Surf Scoter. The long walk back to the lot brought us under a three-Woopecker tree. Acorn, Nuttall’s and Downy Woodpecker were all seen in its branches while numerous Sapsucker holes indicated historical presence of a fourth species. A Northern Flicker was heard one tree over, so I suppose there may be a time where all 5 could be logged in a single tree!

Finally, in the parking lot after several people left, Ashutosh, Eric, Jody, Cricket and myself found two more Spizella species foraging on the ground. Closer examination revealed a duller grayish overall coloration, less contrasty facial patterning and dark lores. After reviewing the field guide we concluded these were winter plumaged Chipping Sparrows. I look forward to visiting this park again in the future, perhaps in spring or earlier in the fall season when we may encounter more migrant activity.

Pied-billed Grebe
Eared Grebe
Western Grebe
Clark's Grebe
Brown Pelican
Brandt's Cormorant
Pelagic Cormorant
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Turkey Vulture
Cackling Goose (probable)
Mallard
Surf Scoter
White-tailed Kite
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Peregrine Falcon
California Quail
American Coot
Killdeer
Black Turnstone
Heerman's Gull
California Gull
Western Gull
Band-tailed Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Anna's Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Acorn Woodpecker
Nuttall's Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Hutton's Vireo
Steller's Jay
Western Scrub Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Oak Titmouse (heard only)
Bushtit
Bewick's Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush (heard only)
Wrentit
European Starling
Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler ("Audubon's" and "Myrtle")
Townsend's Warbler
Common Yellowthroat (heard only)
Spotted Towhee
California Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Clay-colored Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln's Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch





Big Basin State Park (Coastal entrance) 10-09-04


Morning low clouds around Half Moon Bay threatened rain along the coast, but magically they only south to Pescadero, just a few miles north of our destination. The result was one of the clearest and warmest days along the coast I can remember. Beautiful!

Migrant activity seemed considerably slower than last week, but our modest species list for operation “Forest Thrush” may also have to do with differences in geography combined with weather conditions. Winds had been north-westerly for a couple of days so unlike the previous week, birds were not forced to to take shelter from a headwind or offshore storms. Point Reyes also jutts out into the ocean and is sparcely vegetated along the majority of the southern end so the birds that are present are typically concentrated in a hot spots during good birding days. The coastal section of Big Basin, by contrast, is nestled in a sheltered valley that is heavily wooded, making it less of a migrant trap and often obscuring views. That being said, the area is suitable for numerous woodland species including Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, Thrushes, Sparrows and Warblers and we found quite a few.

We met at Waddell Beach along Hwy 1 and scanned the shore quickly for anything unusal and found a large group of Whimbrel that also contained a few Marbled Godwit and Willet. As the birds flew we quickly scanned the flock for any pale rumps that might indicate an alien like Bristle-thighed Curlew or “Eurasian” Whimbrel. Long shot, I know, but you never know. Maybe next time...

Next we headed into the woods where we were immediately presented with opportunities to identify several Sparrows including both “crowned” Sparrows, Song and Fox. The Fox Sparrow was quite cooperative, posing at length allowing good looks at the bicoored bill and vocalized several times. Interestingly, no Lincoln’s were seen depite the appropriate habitat. Further in we saw the first of several Hermit Thrush, with its distinctive reddish tail and rump. Looking somewhat like a sparrow, the heavily spotted breast and thinner bill contrasted with the streaked breast and conical bills of the Sparrows making for a nice comparison. Over the marsh a large flock of Pine Siskin circled restlessly, eventually landing and allowing brief scope views before they flew off again buzzing. The most surprising bird of the day was a first winter male Black-headed Grosbeak. It was challenging because fall Rose-breasteds can be very similar to Black-headeds, but the lack of obvious streaking on the upper breast made it clear we were seeing the more common of the two.

Overhead, two medium-sized raptors circled. The extra-long barred tail, good head projection and rounded wings held straight out suggested Cooper’s Hawk, but some observers commented on the transparent windows at the base of the primaries. The habitat and season could certainly support Sharp-shinned as well as Red-shouldered... The Falcon was clearly Peregrine despite its soaring behavior. Other birds seen in the eucalyptus and pine trees were Hutton’s Vireo and the similar Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Chestnut-backed Chickadee, Brown Creeper and Townsend’s Warbler. Deeper in the woods we came across trees covered with thousands of beautifully carved Sapsucker holes, but none of the artists were located. I expect we will see them before the end of the term and perhaps more during winter. Pygmy Nuthatches were heard in several spots, but none were ever seen.

Finally we returned to the beach to work the large group of Gulls. Among them we identified adult Western, Glaucous-winged, California and Heerman’s as well as first, second (and third) winters of all but Glaucous-winged.

Baffling no-shows were Double-crested and Pelagic Cormorants, Surf Scoter and Killdeer. We were right there on the coast... The Ring-billed Gull is easily explained as is Nuttall’s Woodpecker, nevertheless, these common birds were conspicuous in their absence. Perhaps we will have a chance to see Herring Gull in the weeks to come and Lincoln’s Sparrow could show up anywhere there is adequate cover.

Brown Pelican
Brandt’s Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Snowy Egret
Mallard
Northern Pintail
American Coot
Willet
Whimbrel
Marbled Godwit
Heerman’s Gull
California Gull
Western Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull
Turkey Vulture
Cooper’s Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Peregrine Falcon
California Quail
Band-tailed Pigeon
Anna’s Hummingbird
Acorn Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Black Phoebe
Steller’s Jay
Western Scrub Jay
Common Raven
Wrentit
Brown Creeper
Pygmy Nuthatch (heard only)
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Bushtit
Bewick’s Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Hermit Thrush
American Pipit
European Starling
Hutton’s Vireo
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Townsend’s Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Black-headed Grosbeak
Spotted Towhee
California Towhee
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbird
Brewer’s Blackbird
House Sparrow
Purple Finch (heard only)
House Finch
Pine Siskin






Point Reyes National Seashore (Outer Point) 10-02-04

Our hope was to intercept some southbound migrants in the famous dense cypress trees that stand along the otherwise grassy landscape of the outer point. Each fall, thousands of Passerines, many uncommon or rare eastern Warblers, pass through the point, stopping briefly in the trees to rest or forage before moving on. Timing is crucial for birders to locate many of these species and  weather during the week prior seemed favorable. Fog and a westsouthwest wind provided the right conditions for a good day. And so we set out.

First we met at Bear Valley where there was little activity. We stayed only a while, touring the short trail up past the fenced in area beside the visitors center. Groups of Pine Siskin buzzed above us as we searched for all three Nuthatch species and listened for forest Thrushes. We left the area after about 45 minutes having found only a few of the target species.

While driving out to the point we pulled off the side of the road at Schooner Bay to look for Shorebirds. A few common species were located here, but the highlight was a dark morph Red-tailed Hawk and a Loggerhead Shrike. We spent time with both birds, carefully collecting field marks necessary to rule out less common species.

The MCI Radio Towers along Sir Francis Drake and the nearby cypress trees provided a highlight of things to come. The area is quite beautiful and the trees arching over the entry road reminded me of some beautiful chateau in France... Warblers were numerous here, especially near the building on the north end of the road where we were treated to good looks at an American Redstart, Hermit, Yellow, Townsend’s, Black-throated Gray  and a Black-and-white Warbler. Other Passerines included Pacific-slope Flycatcher, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Hutton’s Vireo and Bewick’s Wren. A large Falcon passed overhead and was visible with difficulty through the treetops. It’s pale color led us to consider Prairie Falcon, but the look was brief and the bird was not relocated. Two Barn Owls were found sleeping as well, but no Great Horned.

Then it was off to Drake’s Beach for lunch. While eating a Kingbird appeared near the visitor’s center and we moved to examine it more closely. It turned out to be the hoped-for Tropical Kingbird, identified by its deeply notched olive tail which lacked white, bright yellow upper breast, long bill and greenish back. A brief vocalization was also heard. Then we noticed a second Kingbird, which turned out to be another Tropical! Other birds in the area included offshore Common Loon, Red-necked Grebe and Surf Scoter as well as a Parasitic Jaeger chasing the hapless Elegant Terns. One smaller Tern appeared to be Common, but our looks were not good enough to be conclusive. The trees above the picnic area contained no less than five Barn Owls as well which we observed flying from tree to tree.

We skipped Mendoza and Nunes Ranches (in retrospect, this was a mistake, but we did return to later), and continued to the Chimney Rock parking area. Along the way the two Ferruginous Hawks were seen perched on the ground, one dark and one light. Beautiful and unusual Hawks. The proximity of the two allowed easy comparison. The dark morph appeared almost like a Golden Eagle, but smaller, with pale bluish eyes, and more light areas on the wings and tail. We worked the Fish Docks with little reward, save a small group of Black Turnstone, Surfbird and a Wandering Tattler. All three Cormorants were found from the lookout, as well as Common Loon and Surf Scoter. The only noteworth Passerines were two Western Wood Pewee and several “Western” Flycatchers. We then returned to the upper trail to work the residence finding other birders who alerted us to a Magnolia Warbler. Down from there we bumped into Rich Stallcup who helped us identify an Empidonax we were evaluating high in a tree. It turned out to be the Yellow-bellied Flycatcher everyone was hoping to find and we managed to get great looks. Hermit Thrush and Fox Sparrow were also present in the underbrush and Great Horned Owl in the cypress trees.

Finally we returned to Sir Francis Drake and stopped at Mendoza where activity had been high earlier in the day. Many of the birds that had been reported just two hours earlier had left but we were able to see the Canada Warbler as it foraged close to the road and posed quite nicely in full view. We left, having missed a great many birds that had been seen by other birders throughout the day, but we came away feeling like we had accomplished our mission.

Pied-billed Grebe
Common Loon
Pied-billed Grebe
Red-necked Grebe (seen by one)
Aechmophorus species
Brown Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
Brandt's Cormorant
Pelagic Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Snowy Egret
Great Egret
Mallard
Surf Scoter
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
White-tailed Kite
Northern Harrier
Cooper's Hawk
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
Ferruginous Hawk (dark and light morphs)
American Kestrel
Falcon species (large, pale. Prairie possible)
California Quail
Wild Turkey (San Geronimo Valley)
American Coot
Killdeer
Willet
Wandering Tattler
Marbled Godwit
Black Turnstone
Surfbird
Sanderling
Parasitic Jaeger (seen by one)
Heerman's Gull
Ring-billed Gull
California Gull
Western Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull
Elegant Tern
Common Tern (possible)
Mourning Dove
Rock Pigeon
Barn Owl
Great Horned Owl
Anna's Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Acorn Woodpecker
Nuttall's Woodpecker (heard only)
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker (heard only)
Northern Flicker
Western Wood Pewee
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
Pacific-slope Flycatcher
Black Phoebe
Say's Phoebe
Tropical Kingbird
Steller's Jay
Western Scrub Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Bushtit
Red-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch (heard only)
Pygmy Nuthatch
Bewick's Wren
Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Western Bluebird
Swainson's Thrush (heard only)
Hermit Thrush
Wrentit (heard only)
Cedar Waxwing
European Starling
Loggerhead Shrike
Hutton's Vireo
Yellow Warbler
Magnolia Warbler
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Townsend's Warbler
Hermit Warbler
Black-and-white Warbler (seen by two)
American Redstart
Canada Warbler
Common Yellowthroat (heard only)
Spotted Towhee
California Towhee
Savannah Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird
Tricolored Blackbird
Brewer's Blackbird
Western Meadowlark
Brown-headed Cowbird
Purple Finch
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch





Point Reyes National Seashore (Abbott’s Lagoon) 09-25-04

After meeting at Bear Valley, where we heard Red-shouldered Hawk and Swainson’s Thrush in the forest and got a few glimpses of a Towsend’s Warbler high in the canopy, our group made a quick stop at the Inverness Store to scan the bay. There we located a Clark’s Grebe, a huge circling flock of Brown Pelicans, some distant California and Mew Gulls and a lone Osprey. A Band-tailed Pigeon was seen briefly as it flew over the trees and away from us. Near the dumpsters a large group of Sparrows popped in and out of a tree and we spotted White-crowned, Golden-crowned, Song and Lincoln’s in rapid succession. From there we proceeded to the Abbott’s Lagoon trail where most of our birding took place. On the long hike out to the water we encountered many Warblers and Sparrows in the scrub that included Orange-crowned, Yellow, Yellow-rumped, Yellowthroat and a mystery species* that continues to avoid confirmation. Wrentit, both of the crowned Sparrows, Song and Lincoln’s as well as Fox Sparrow and Spotted Towhee were logged along the trail. Waterbirds included Double-crested Cormorant, Belted Kingfisher, Virginia Rail, Blue-winged Teal and American Wigeon as well as Gadwall, Northern Shoveler and Northern Pintail. On the Lagoon proper the real fun began. Shorebirds were numerous as well as Gulls and a few Elegant Terns, some showing subtle pink wash on their breast. Red-necked Phalaropes numbered in the hundreds as did Willet and Marbled Godwit. Other Shorebirds with high numbers included Sanderling and Least Sandpiper. Western Sandpiper were in lower proportion and only one each of the Yellowlegs species were seen. Both Semipalmated and Snowy Plovers were present, but the real thrill occurred when Ken spotted an unusual large Plover. Many Black-bellied Plovers had already been identified, but this individual seemed slighter and darker than the others. Could it be the rare American Golden Plover that had been reported recently? Immediately we were all on the bird with scopes, binoculars and books. We spent no less than fifteen minutes reviewing the fieldmarks, especially the primary feather extension beyond the tail and tertials. A nearby Black-belly allowed for easy comparison. We finally felt we had gathered the required information to clinch the ID and we all agreed that it was the desired bird. The cherry on top was that Leonie observed the bird raise its wings to confirm that it had clean axillaries! Well done everyone! (See note below) On the walk back we got great looks at an immature Sora on the small pond and the second mystery** appeared, a Spizella species! Possibilities include Chipping and Clay-colored Sparrows. Again, conclusive ID is difficult but it makes for interesting discussion. We wrapped the day up in the parking lot, having missed some species like Baird’s or Pectoral Sandpiper, but spending concentrated time on some subtle identification challenges.

*Mystery Warbler: PRAIRE WARBLER?
• White on outer tail feathers (tail pattern suggested Junco, Lark or Wagtail)
• Extensive yellow on undersides extending to belly and undertail
• Yellow brightest on throat and upper breast
• Greenish on upperparts
• Wingbars present but not bright (suggesting Blackpoll, but not with that tail pattern or the amount of yellow wash on undertail coverts)
• Indistinct facial pattern appearing odd, like a broken eye-ring of yellow
• Faint streaking on sides of breast
• Stayed fairly low and actively, moving around constantly
• Did not notice tail bobbing that might suggest Prairie Warbler

**Mystery Sparrow: CLAY-COLORED SPARROW (divided crown and buffiness)
• Judged Spizella because of…
• Long notched tail, small head, pinkish bill
• Darkish eye stripe was indistinct but present. Behind eye?
• Median strip of pale grayish-white on finely streaked brownish crown
• Some buffy or pale yellowish on supercillium and lores
• Buffy breast with the faintest streaks suggesting first winter
• Pale rump, I did not see whether gray or tan
• Overall impression was that it was too buffy to be Brewer’s
• Dark eyestripe suggests Chipping, but buffiness suggests Clay-colored

Pied-billed Grebe
Eared Grebe
Clark’s Grebe
American White Pelican
Brown Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Snowy Egret
Great Egret
Blue-winged Teal
Northern Shoveler
Mallard
Northern Pintail
Gadwall
American Wigeon
Scaup species
Surf Scoter
Turkey Vulture
Osprey
White-tailed Kite
Northern Harrier
Red-shouldered Hawk
Red-tailed Hawk
American Kestrel
Falcon species (larger than AMKE)
California Quail
Wild Turkey (San Geronimo Valley)
Virginia Rail
Sora
American Coot
Black-bellied Plover
American Golden Plover (Probably not, but axillary issue remains)
Snowy Plover
Semipalmated Plover
Killdeer
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs
Willet
Whimbrel
Marbled Godwit
Sanderling
Western Sandpiper
Least Sandpiper
Dunlin
Long-billed Dowitcher
Short-billed Dowitcher
Red-necked Phalarope
Heerman’s Gull
Mew Gull
Ring-billed Gull
California Gull
Western Gull
Elegant Tern
Band-tailed Pigeon
Belted Kingfisher
Acorn Woodpecker
Nuttall’s Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker (heard only)
Northern Flicker (heard only)
Black Phoebe
Say’s Phoebe
Horned Lark
Western Scrub Jay
American Crow
Common Raven
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
Bewick’s Wren
Western Bluebird (overhead)
Swainson’s Thrush (heard only)
Wrentit (heard only)
European Starling
American Pipit (overhead)
Hutton’s Vireo ( heard only)
Orange-crowned Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Townsend’s Warbler
Common Yellowthroat
Spotted Towhee
Savannah Sparrow
Fox Sparrow
Song Sparrow
Lincoln’s Sparrow
Golden-crowned Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Red-winged Blackbird
Brewer’s Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
Lesser Goldfinch (overhead)




Sunnyvale Water Pollution Control Plant (SWPCP) (and State/Spreckles add-on) 10-19-04

What a fantastic way to begin the term! True, weather was cool and many of us got chilled on the levy trail, but the birds we saw made it all worthwhile. We concentrated on the many Waterbirds and the subtle differences between them. A good proportion of the Anseriformes were in eclipse plumage, and of course immature birds and basic plumages within all groups abounded. When we arrived, we discovered it was “Household Hazardous Waste Disposal Day” at the facility (yeah!), so parking was a bit tricky. After some back and forth, we began our walk. Activity was high, even from the start, where we had a dozen or so Vaux’s Swifts flying among the many Tree and Violet-green Swallows over the lot. Shortly after that, an immature Cooper’s Hawk scattered all the Starlings on the west hill followed quickly by a Red-tailed Hawk. The two raptors engaged for a moment, with the smaller bird winning the tussle and chasing the larger away. Two Green Heron were located very quickly in the small channel leading west before the main pool. Common Yellowthroat and Marsh Wren were also in the area. Numerous American White Pelicans fed further out, and were seen several times soaring overhead. A nice surprise was a single Brown Pelican flying between the two large pools at the north end of the levy. We worked through the hundreds of waterfowl on the main water, finding Canada Goose, Mallard, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail and the resident exotic White-cheeked Pintail. Diving Ducks included scores of Ruddy Duck and several Lesser Scaup in the east pool. A few Eared Grebe, some still dressed in alternate plumage were found as well as an Aechmophorus species. The latter unfortunately went unspecified because it was too far away and refused to raise its head. After much searching, about a ten or twelve Red-necked Phalaropes appeared on west pond, many fewer than a week before. The only other Shorebirds encountered were an occasional Least Sandpiper along the water’s edge. Gulls were numerous, with California and Ring-billed seeming to be in roughly equal numbers. We observed at least five Forster’s Terns, and two Caspian Terns, both with young following shortly behind. On the way back to the lot we heard the pumping of a Virginia Rail in reeds by the huge drainage pipe. After we had had enough of the cold, many of us chose to make a stop at State and Spreckles "SP" in Alviso. There we scanned the shallow pools for some of the recently reported rareties. We found no Stilt Sandpiper, but after some searching both Ruff and Pectoral Sandpiper ("Hawk-eye" Shelia Mae found that one!) were spotted and well seen by all. I managed to get some digiscope images of the Ruff, which I have posted in the gallery section of this site. Other birds found here (and along the train tracks "RR") that were new for the day were two Wilson’s Phalarope, Short-billed and Long-billed Dowitchers, Lesser Yellowlegs, Western Sandpiper, Black-bellied Plover and Burrowing Owl (thanks especially to Ashutosh for directing us that last one!). Finally, before heading home for lunch, Cricket, and I stopped at the Alviso Marina to find the Greater Roadrunner. She found it within a minute or two as it walked slowly along the edge of the pavement. When I joined her, the bird had disappeared into a large bush bordering the parking area. We waited, and soon Leonie Batkin joined us and we waited some more. Finally, all three of us got looks as the bird perched silently and became visible through a small gap in the branches. It wasn’t the best view in the world, but at least we saw it, the famous Alviso Roadrunner. Quite cool!

Pied-billed Grebe
Eared Grebe
Aechmophorus species
American White Pelican
Brown Pelican
Double-crested Cormorant
Great Blue Heron
Great Egret
Snowy Egret
Green Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron
Canada Goose
Mallard
Northern Pintail
White-cheeked Pintail (exotic)
Northern Shoveler
Gadwall
Lesser Scaup
Ruddy Duck
Turkey Vulture
Cooper’s Hawk
Accipiter species
Red-tailed Hawk
Virginia Rail (heard only)
Common Moorhen
American Coot
Black-bellied Plover (RR)
Killdeer (SP)
Black-necked Stilt
American Avocet
Greater Yellowlegs
Lesser Yellowlegs (SP)
Marbled Godwit
Western Sandpiper (RR)
Least Sandpiper
Pectoral Sandpiper (SP)
Ruff (SP)
Short-billed Dowitcher (SP)
Long-billed Dowitcher (RR by voice)
Wilson’s Phalarope (SP)
Red-necked Phalarope
Ring-billed Gull
California Gull
Caspian Tern
Forster’s Tern
Rock Pigeon
Mourning Dove
Greater Roadrunner (AM)
Burrowing Owl (RR)
Vaux’s Swift
Anna’s Hummingbird
Belted Kingfisher
Black Phoebe
Say’s Phoebe
Tree Swallow
Violet-green Swallow
Barn Swallow
American Crow
Bushtit
Marsh Wren
Northern Mockingbird
European Starling
Common Yellowthroat
Savannah Sparrow (SP heard only)
Song Sparrow
Red-winged Blackbird
Brewer’s Blackbird
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Sparrow